The controversy raised by an anti-gay group in the weeks preceding the Homecoming football game ended in less conflict than some had anticipated.
Waving their now familiar “God Hates Fags” picket signs, eight members the Westboro Baptist Church gathered Saturday across from Hughes Stadium before the football game between CSU and the University of Wyoming.
Between 300 and 400 counter-protesters, waved signs with phrases like, “Hate is not a Family Value,” “God Loves All” and “Pray for the Westboro Children,” stood facing down with the Westboro group, whose other signs said things like, “AIDS: God’s Cure for Fags” and “Matt: 4 Years in Hell.”
The anti-gay group from Topeka, Kan., announced nearly a month ago that they would be picketing the Oct. 12 CSU Homecoming football game. The group’s leader, Fred Phelps, said their protest would “celebrate Matthew Shepard’s entry into hell.”
Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was died on Oct. 12, 1998 from injuries suffered when he was severely beaten by two men who disagreed with his sexual orientation.
The announcement of the upcoming picket caused many groups at CSU and in Fort Collins to devise fundraisers, counter-protests and coalitions in opposition.
By 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, before the afternoon football game, CSU’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered student organization was already at the stadium, prepared for the anti-gay group’s arrival. By the time Phelps and his followers arrived, people from all over Colorado had gathered wearing stickers reading “Stop Hate,” which were distributed by the GLBT student organization.
A humanist group from Boulder was present, wearing shirts reading, “Yours is a Weak and Feeble God, with Serious Questions About his Sexuality.”
“We are peacefully protesting Westboro’s Baptist Church’s message of unbalanced hate, in support of human rights,” said Russell B. Jacobs, a counter-protester with the Boulder group.
Many Fort Collins Christian churches and organizations were also present, with messages unlike the Westboro church’s message.
“There was so much support from the other angle,” said Brett Swanson, a member of CSU’s Intravarsity Christian Fellowship. “Our presence alone probably encouraged them to leave.”
All groups peacefully protested then dispersed before 1 p.m. without any major conflicts, other than shouting and honking from passing cars.
Amber Rogers, another member of the humanist group from Boulder, said she thought the Westboro group may have stayed longer if it weren’t for the counter-protesters.
“I think we scared them off,” she said
-Edited by Shandra Jordan, Colleen Buhrer and Ben Koerselman